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SuccessConnect 2018 - inside Ernst & Young's drive for a purposeful workplace

Jon Reed Profile picture for user jreed September 13, 2018
My use case interviews at SuccessConnect 2018 pointed to one thing: achieving the benefits of cloud HR requires a deeper transformation. But that's never easy. First up? Penny Stoker of EY shares their story.

Whenever I interview someone for the first time, I want to know what drives them. When I asked Ernst & Young's Penny Stoker, Global HR Services Leader, she didn't hesitate:

I truly believe organizations can be better for people.

That's something we all understand. But it's also an ambitious statement to make in today's world of hyper-connected, overstressed employees.

I already knew that Ernst & Young (doing business as EY), is a major SAP SuccessFactors customer, with 260,000 users. But first things first. You can't truly succeed in cloud HR without a plan for HR transformation - and a vision employees can rally around. Stoker didn't sugarcoat it:

We all come to work wanting to do the very best thing we can. Almost all of us - there's the odd person that truly is there to be evil. But most of us want to come to work and do a good job, and be paid for the work that we do - and be inspired and be connected.

And organizations do a really good job, on average, of beating that out of you.

I'm not used to hearing this from an HR executive. Stoker continued:

There's something weird that happens when people get into organizations. You start putting all these things in there, these rules and these processes and all this stuff happens, and people just don't become themselves - or think they have to be somebody else.

Stoker's challenge at EY? Avoid these pitfalls by building a different culture. She leads EY's HR services team, which serves as the operational arm of HR. It all falls under the umbrella of fostering talent.

Our purpose is to make the end user experience as simple and clear as possible, so that our folks can be productive in doing what they come to work to do every day.

It's not just about serving employees:

We're there to help drive their experience to a better place. That could be our employees; it could be our managers; it could be our leaders - depends on what the process is. It could be candidates; it could be alumni, lots of different stakeholders.

That doesn't sound like administrative HR to me. But Stoker's team handles plenty of admin. They just want to change it:

My whole team [deals with admin] - that's what we do. But what we're doing is we're saying, "Can I make this easier for that individual to do what they need to do?"

My first thought was: lots of self-service HR then. Stoker says: not necessarily.

If it's easier for you to pick up a phone to make a change, my team has to figure out what's the right channel to get that to you.

Transforming the HR tech - "We've been on a very old platform"

Now we get to the technology. You're not going to provide that type of HR experience without a modern platform. As Stoker told me, that was a problem at EY:

We've been on a very old platform. Three years ago we made the decision we were going to change.

Bring on the HR software evaluation:

We went through the normal process everybody goes through, and SuccessFactors came out as the winner. So we're in there with them on the full suite.

The first go-live happened last summer. Now it's full speed ahead: every six months, they push new functionality to the organization. Why did they choose SuccessFactors?

  • Flexibility - "Core wasn't important for us to go first. We know we have to do it; we know we need to do it because of our platforms, but I had something that was working, so I didn't have to go there first."
  • Relationship with SAP - "This is a bit like a marriage, right? You don't make the decision today and then when you all get mad at each other and things aren't working, you don't say, 'Okay, go away and we'll go do something else.' This is a long-term approach."

Their first go-live? Onboarding.

As we went through the selection process, we knew there were processes we needed support globally, that we didn't have the technology to support. Onboarding was the first one, and we knew we were going to change our performance approach, so we needed functionality that would support that. And then our third one was Learning, so we've done them in that order.

Next on the list: the second phase of their Learning project, to go live in about four months. Then the core:

EC will go live, knock on wood, next summer.

From annual performance reviews to continuous feedback

Performance management is a hot item for me; I told Stoker I was pressing SAP on how to move beyond KPI obsessions - how do you do that with performance? Can you turn performance management into a way to cultivate continued improvement, rather than dreading your yearly checkup? That's a big goal of SAP's latest Performance Management releases. Stoker:

That's exactly what we're trying.

And how is that going?

Our process, if I look at before and after, before what it was an annual process. If you were lucky, somebody went in and put some stuff in the system at mid-year, but typically, people might go in at the end of the year and you'd all sit around the table and go, "Well,so and so is really good. So and so's not so good." And then you give them feedback.

That's changed now:

What we've moved to is for the majority of the population, four times a year, they set activities with an end goal in mind, but what are your activities this quarter? Who are your feedback providers? Who are the people?

You and your counselor - we call our managers counselors - you and your counselor have to agree who's your feedback provider, and what kind of weight are you going to give that feedback provider.

By the second quarter of their fiscal year, EY had over 700,000 pieces of feedback in the system for that quarter. On average, that means two to three pieces of feedback per person per quarter. Previously, that was as much as they had on an annual basis. But is that higher volume helping employees?

Yes, they're seeing it real time. We've put dashboards that show how they're doing against peers. We have a bunch of audit associates, a bunch of tax associates, so they can get those comparisons. And what we're hearing from them is they're having better conversations with their counselors because they're getting that feedback.

There's more work ahead:

Is it great yet? No. We're the first year into a what will probably be a three-year change process. But we're seeing it'll make a difference.

EY employee surveys show an increase in employee conversations with managers across the organization. But the caliber of those conversations matters also:

The challenge now is, are they quality conversations? We've got the quantity, now we've got to drive the quality.

The wrap - prove the model, and the stats will come

The increase in year-round conversations is promising. But shouldn't that ultimately be reflected in stats like retention?

It should. Those are some of the things that we're tracking. What are your retention rates? How do you correlate the feedback we're getting about your development process? Is that resulting in retention? Are we seeing people promoted differently?

We talked further about the goals of analyzing workforce data - something I may revisit in a future piece. But for now, my big question was: how do these projects reinforce what makes EY special? Because most services firms fall back on "we've got the best people" - to the point where the phrase has almost no meaning. Stoker:

We firmly believe it's our purpose, building a better working world. If you go to, you can't even get away from it. We believe in building a better working world by asking better questions. And if you think about what we do, and this is no different by the way, than any of our competitors, and we provide confidence and trust in capital markets because of our audit practice. We provide insights and advice through our advisory practice, our M & A practice, our tax practice.

So what is different, then?

What makes us different is the purpose behind it. We're doing it because we believe that the world can be better for our people, for our communities and our clients. And that's important to us.

Not all companies can live up to such statements. How EY fares is a story we'll be tracking.

Updated, September 14, 7am Pacific time with a few minor tweaks for reading clarity.

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